Welcome to another newsletter from A Way with Words!
This week's minicast, available only online, is about the Yiddish expression "hak mir nisht ken tshaynik." It's what you say to somebody who's annoying you with a lot of talk. Listen here:
After that, you can find out more about the expression on the web site of Michael Wex, author of the book "Born to Kvetch."
We also aired over the airwaves what we like to call an "environmentally friendly" episode: it's recycled from February, when we took the delightful call from a woman about whether or not she should harshly judge a potential suitor because he says "expresso" instead of "espresso." Listen to the full-length episode here:
Even though we're on a summer break, the email is still pouring in. We have a great deal of fun reading it and answering it, although, of course, there's so much that it's hard to answer everything.
As we always say, we do read everything, though, and if a question comes from more than one person that we try to answer it on the air.
Stephen had a question we get a lot: "Why do most people nowadays seem to say the repugnant and unnecessarily longer 'orientated' rather than what I remember hearing for about the first 55 of my 63 years, 'oriented'?"
What Stephen seems to be encountering is a small, new wave of British English influence on American English. "Orientate"--which dates to at least as early as 1848--is far more commonly used in British English, while "orient" is more common in North American English. "Orientate" hasn't ever been completely absent from American English, but it does appear, based upon simple research, to be a bit more common in American English than it used to be.
We recommend that you North Americans stick to "orient," if you can, and let "orientate" slide when used by others, if you would. You over-ponders can carry on as you were.
Regarding the woman who found the word "moist" disgusting, Josh wrote to say, "She has some good company in her hate of that word. I am pretty sure a lot of the top officials in the Air Force also can't stand to hear the "moisture." Moisture cost our Air Force about $1.4 billion dollars after some moisture build-up caused B-2 stealth bomber to crash."
Another question we took at stab at in email this week (a polite stab, the kind you do with a toothpick and a sausage roll) was, "Why is the alphabet arranged in the order it is?"
Short answer: it's the fault of several cultures. Blame the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and so forth, but mostly just blame cultural inertia.
Among other places, you can find the question discussed on Ask Metafilter and Straight Dope:
There are also a number of books which tell the tale, most quite inexpensive, especially if you purchase a used copy:
Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z
The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs, & Pictograms
Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World
Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet
Finally, Preethi in India wrote to ask where she could check the difference in pronunciation between American and British English. We recommend these two sites, not because Grant has worked for both publishers (though not on these dictionaries) but because they're just plain good dictionaries.
Cambridge University Press dictionaries:
Oxford Advance Learner's Dictionary:
That's all for the newsletter this week. Next week we'll be back with another minicast, another classic full-length episodes and more letters from readers.
Best wishes in a time of love and collars up,
Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett